[image: Kansas Heritage Group sunflower] [image: old west wagon on trail]

Smoky Hill Trail History

The Smoky Hill Trail was named for the Smoky Hill River that it followed across western Kansas.
The Smoky Hill Trail was prompted by the discovery of gold near Denver and the rush to the Rockies in 1859. It was the quickest route there.

Salina was the westernmost post on the Smoky Hill Trail in 1860.

The first real travel over the Smoky Hill Trail was in June 1865 (a freight train to Denver).

Col. David A. Butterfield established a stage line, the Butterfield Overland Dispatch, to carry freight and passengers from Atchison, Kansas to Denver, Colorado. It traveled the 592 mile long Smoky Hill Route during the line's existence (June 1865 - August 18, 1870). Relay stations were built every twelve miles for the passenger's comfort. The stage line was sold in 1866 to Ben Holladay. Ben Holladay sold out in 1866 to Wells, Fargo and Company. The stage line grew shorter as the Kansas Pacific Railroad moved toward Denver, and in 1870 the stage line was no longer needed. The coming of the railroad marked the end of the stagecoach era in American history.

Downer's Station was established on Downer's Creek as a stage station in 1865.

In 1866 the long wagon trains that previously formed at Council Grove now formed at Junction City and moved westward over the Smoky Hill route.

As the Kansas Pacific Railroad was built, the eastern terminus of the Smoky Hill Trail was the western terminus of the railroad.


General Land Office survey plats.

Lee, Wayne C. and Raynesford, Howard C. Trails of the Smoky Hill. Caxton Printers: Caldwell, ID. 1980.

  • Smoky Hill Trail Route
  • Account--Brantner/Smith Party
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